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As an audit partner in KPMG Canada’s consumer and industrial markets practice, Michelle Myers thought she knew what busy was – particularly in the year’s first quarter as she worked round the clock preparing clients' tax returns.

But that was before she had the first of her two children seven years ago. Luckily, her employer had a flexible work policy in place, which in her case gave her the opportunity to come back to work at 80 per cent, whether that meant working four days a week or working all five with varying hours.

KPMG Canada recently took the flexible work philosophy one step further with the launch of its “Return to Audit” program in October. Designed to encourage any skilled audit professional who has been out of work for a period of time back into the work force, whether to raise a family or look after an elderly parent, the initiative proved attractive, with 60 people expressing interest in its first six weeks.

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“If we didn’t do something we are missing out on a significant piece of the workforce in terms of the skills that are out there,” says Kristy Carscallen, KPMG’s Canadian managing partner for audit.

Having started at the company’s Toronto office fresh out of university 13 years ago, Ms. Myers is appreciative of the company’s approach. “What this allows us to do, and has allowed people at KPMG to do, is to continue to build a very meaningful career and make meaningful contributions at home, which is very important to me,” she says.

KPMG’s approach to such employee issues is being echoed through many organizations, as much through necessity as anything else. Beatrix Dart, executive director and founder of the Rotman Initiative for Women in Business, says that Canada is now in a talent-crunch phase. Consequently, organizations are looking beyond the university pipeline to less-traditional sources of hiring employees.

“The re-entry of women who have been highly educated, who usually have some advanced degree … is now a fantastic talent pool they have rediscovered,” Ms. Dart says. This change in philosophy has only occurred in the past decade, she adds, with many of these professionally trained women having been out of the workplace for about eight years on average.

Beyond finding welcoming employers, two challenges that face women reintegrating themselves are regaining confidence in their abilities and updating their skills, such as in technology or working in team environments.

But investing in these women is proving well worth the effort. “The feedback we receive [from organizations] is, ‘Oh, my god, these are the most dedicated, motivated and loyal employees I’ve ever had,’” Ms. Dart says. “Yes, because you gave them a second chance.”

Other Canadian companies are coming up with their own twists to get women back into the work force.

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At RBC Dominion Securities, the philosophy is geared toward adding senior talent and to bring that experience in capital markets or related industries back into the workplace. But the company is also aware that individual situations vary, so if it wants to capture the very best, it has to be ready for them as and when the right circumstances crop up.

Lucia Liscio, the director of global strategic talent initiatives at the full-service brokerage, says that the organization operates on the idea of an open enrollment, all year round.

“We might not have job openings but I have a clear mandate to say, when talent is ready, we need to be ready, so let's go and create the roles that suit that talent because we see the value of that talent when they're ready,” she says.

International law firm Norton Rose Fulbright LLP espouses the idea of phased returns on a case-by-case basis to try to bring mothers and fathers back into the fold. To help attract the next generation of lawyers, it also promotes the idea of agile working.

“We know with millennial employees, they demand greater flexibility and they are used to a different environment where they can work any place, any time,” says Sacha de Klerk, the law firm’s head of diversity and inclusion.

“We don’t want to lose our great talent,” Ms. De Klerk says. “We’d like to keep them within our organization and it’s a win-win if we can find them a position that meets their career objectives and where they can still be making a contribution to our business.”

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Taking that approach to female talent is one that all organizations should be aspiring to. Stephania Varalli, co-chief executive at Women of Influence Inc., an event company designed to further the advancement of professional women, says that while there are still negative perceptions about women who have left the workplace, such as that they are less committed or less promotable, it couldn’t be further from the truth.

She references a McKinsey Global Institute report from 2015, which stated that US$12-trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality. As a result, she says it can really affect a company if they’re not good at doing things such as bringing women on board after maternity leave or having a back-to-work program.

“Not having those women in the workplace, there’s tons of research that shows that diversity of thought can enable your organization to succeed in a broader scale,” she says. “So when you have diversity of thought, that’s when you get innovation happening. That’s when your bottom line starts to grow.”

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